The main culture differences between The Netherlands and China


Doing business with the Chinese is like growing a bonsai tree. You have to give it a lot of attention, nurture the initial seedlings carefully and keep in mind that you won't reap the benefits of your hard work until much later. You would do well to first invest in a good business relation network, as the Chinese never first look at your business, but at your contacts, Xiaoling Sun, InnovationQuarter's Foreign Investment Team's Asia expert tells.

‘Don’t play your cards in the first row

She knew that the seminar would net few leads. The Chinese province of Hebei – hugging the capital Beijing like a scarf – is strongly focussed on the region, has a lot of production but little innovation, and hardly cooperates with foreign parts. “But that is precisely why it is good that we, Zuid-Holland, organised another trade mission this year to our sister province in China, and that InnovationQuarter held a seminar there. After three years’ investment in the relationship, they know who we are and what Zuid-Holland has to offer. You have to persist over here. Never play your cards in the first row. For instance, only now am I receiving telephone calls regarding the presentation we made three years ago.

This is how closed doors open

To the Dutch, it still seems a little bombastic at times, such a trade mission (12-19 May) in which a heavy delegation of government officials take a number of companies in tow. But in China, this is the only way to get a foothold, Xiao Ling explains. “The Chinese have a strong hierarchy, so if you want to speak to the person taking the decisions, you send your top officials. Preferably people at government level, because the first decisions are taken there. To Dutch companies wishing to do business in China, it is really useful to take part in a trade mission. Doors will open that would otherwise remain closed."

Asking questions is unusual

Xiao Ling graduated in the 1980s and has gone through the political developments in China since the 1960s. She had a freer spirit than most of her peers. That proved difficult at times during her philosophy studies. She would argue with the professor if their views differed. “He took that as an attack on his authority, thought that I deliberately challenged him." During the exam for his subject, she worked her own opinion in the answers. She failed. I'm going to lose this fight, she thought, I have to adjust. “Children in China normally listen, from kindergarten to university. Asking questions is unusual.”

That experience taught Xiao Ling that it would be hard to get the Chinese to speak during the round table. ‘Any questions?' does not work. She opted to have all participants speak for themselves: can you tell us something about your company and your vision for the future? “When they really started to tell, we were able to pick up on it. Our Dutch companies had the solutions for their problems."

Opportunities for Dutch companies

The main opportunities for Dutch entrepreneurs in China are in agriculture, horticulture and water management, says Xiaoling. There is so much pollution in the Hebei province, that the Chinese are gasping for technologies that secure safe food, clean air and clean water for the future. Our Westland horticultural experts help the Chinese sister province, for example, in the construction of smart greenhouses with bio-bees and climate controls, so that food can be grown safely.

“We were the first foreign delegation allowed to take a look in the XiongAn New Area. The Chinese government intends to make this area 130 km south of Beijing the third innovation region, in addition to the two already thriving regions Shenzhen and Shanghai Pudong. It is to become a place that is viable for new generations, for example with smart bar-coded trees, allowing you to read the history of the tree. Enormous opportunities for Zuid-Holland exist in XiongAn in the field of new energy, high-tech, water management, horticulture and the smart manufacturing industry."

Drinks for business

Xiaoling has lived in The Netherlands for years now. “I understand both the Dutch and the Chinese cultural horizon. For example, I can read the hierarchical structures of a group of Chinese persons flawlessly. There is always one man or woman that everyone watches to see what they need to do. If the boss leaves, the rest will also be gone in no time." As a result, Xiaoling always takes her manager Chris van Voorden (head of Foreign Investments) in the right order to greet the guests: from high-ranking to low-ranking. “I lead, but he is in front, because he is the most senior of the two of us."

“Despite the fact that Chris is a Dutchman of origin, he is always very popular with the Chinese. He expresses himself clearly, is self-confident and polite. And he also cheerfully has a drink with them." She laughs out loud. “Well, that's how it works in China. The real business is not done in the office, but in the evening at the dining table and while having a drink. In China, you become a good friend first, and only then a business partner. And as soon as you lose their trust, you lose the business."

©: InnovationQuarter